June 2, 20151 Comment

Fiction in a Minute: Dude, Part 5

Editor's note: you can read Part 4 here.

He knew as he walked to the waiting room with Melly that he couldn’t leave. He texted Ray that he was tied up, then slumped into a chair like a man knocked down by a haymaker punch he never saw coming.

His mind played back Linus’s request like an audio loop. The image of a baby formed before his eyes against the blank waiting room wall, its innocence and potential as pure as sunlight. His genes, and those of his father and mother (now gone), living on through this sparkling baby. And what an offer -- to procreate without responsibility, a donor of life who gives and then departs, his duty done in minutes rather than over decades.

And of course there was the karmic payback, the chance to give life where once he had taken it. Now in his mind’s movie theatre he saw himself in another waiting room, his girlfriend Kimmie’s red eyes and smeared mascara, the signs on the wall about sexually-transmitted diseases and something called the morning after pill that he had never known existed.

Someone said “father” and he looked up to see Melly staring at him, holding a pot of thick black coffee in one hand and a styrofoam cup in another.

“What did you say?”

“Coffee. I asked if you wanted coffee,” she said.

Neil shook his head, and watched her turn from him, her hands moving over packets of sugar and artificial sweetener and dried creamer.

“You and Linus have been looking into the artificial insemination thing for a while?” he said.

She turned to him, her face wrinkling in confusion, teeth chewing her bottom lip. “We can’t afford that kind of thing,” she said, and he understood with great clarity that he was expected to have sex with her. He found himself appraising her with different eyes, noticing the way her button-down shirt gaped slightly between her breasts, and the soft roundness of her rear end.

After a time, sitting in silence next to Melly, the thought occurred to him: What if Linus died on the operating table? Did he mean for Neil to take Melly as his wife? Panic stirred in him, and he sat up straight in the chair, his legs ready to run. He willfully slowed his breathing. Certainly that wasn’t Linus’s expectation. He just wanted to come clean with Neil about his reasons for dragging him to the Green Man bar. A deathbed declaration of truth was all it was.

His mind took on the prayerful mantra, “let him be okay, let him be okay,” and Neil realized this was the closest he had come to praying since his mother’s death. But because he didn’t believe in God, he threw the words out into the universe like pennies into a wishing well, rather than addressing them to some supreme being with the power to grant him this request.

Melly turned on the television, standing on her tiptoes to reach the buttons that changed the channels. A remote control was nowhere to be found. She settled on a cooking show, and they both stared at the female chef at her stove, talking directly into the camera. And so the hours passed.

The surgeon strode in on lime-green running shoes, his head covered in a blue bandanna that matched his eyes.

“Mrs. Deguerra?” he said, and Melly glanced at Neil shyly before taking the more expedient choice of letting him identify her this way, instead of going through the “we’re not married” speech.

“The surgery went well. The bullet missed his heart by an inch. It sliced through his shoulder and went out the other side, so we had nothing to remove. We’ll know later if he’s lost any motor function or has nerve damage; in which case he may need more surgery. But he’s recovering nicely.”

Melly seemed to melt with relief, and Neil felt a weight lifted. No need to worry about interpreting Linus’s intent in making his odd request and wondering if it included becoming Melly’s guardian, protector and baby daddy.

After another cooking show had begun and ended, Neil heard the soft squeak of sneakers on the tile floor. A nurse in pink scrubs holding a clipboard motioned for them both to follow her. Neil followed the two women, feeling tethered to Melly and unwilling to let her out of his sight until he had delivered her back safely to Linus.

They came to brightly lit single room, where Linus lay looking out the dark window.
Neil heard Melly gasp back a sob, then watched her as she flung her brown purse on the ground and slid into the chair next to the bed. Linus turned to her and they pressed their heads together, hands clasping. She kissed him several times, her lips making soft smacks on his skin. Linus winced in pain but still smiled. Their love electrified the air, and Neil felt the tiny hairs on the back of his arms and neck begin to stand up in response. Here was certain love.

“I’ll do it,” he blurted out, and they both turned their eyes to him, first in surprise, then joy.

April 17, 20152 Comments

Fiction in a minute: Dude, Part 2

[Editor's note: you can read part 1 here.]

Feeling some trepidation at following a stranger to an unknown location, Neil trailed behind Linus, his guitar case banging against his thigh. The other man carried Neil's mini-amp in one hand, the extension cord draped around his neck like a thin, black snake.  They crossed the street and headed north on Main. They walked for blocks in silence, until gluten-free pie bakeries and forty-dollar T-shirt stores gave way to liquor stores and apartment buildings begging for fresh paint.

Neil cleared his throat. “So, are we almost there yet?”

“Almost there,” Linus said without turning to face him.

“Longer walk than I expected,” Neil said, and when Linus didn’t respond to that, Neil felt a prickling along the back of his neck. What made him go off and start following this strange du-u-ude to a secret spot? He considered peeling off, claiming he had some pressing appointment he forgot about, but he didn’t want Linus to think he was some kind of pussy afraid of walking a few blocks. If it came to it, Neil could throw a punch.

At the next intersection, Linus turned right and ahead of them was a white stucco building, bars on its curtained windows. Someone had painted “Green Man” in shaky, uneven lettering above the open door.

It took a few moments for Neil’s eyes to adjust to the quiet darkness inside the bar. He first saw a jukebox on the far wall opposite the door, with red, green and yellow lights flashing. A thick man in dark clothes stood in profile to them, his left hand twitching at his side. Facing him was a tall blonde woman, who was pulling money out of the cash register with shaking hands.

“Melly,” Linus said. “You gotta hear this guy play.”

The man pivoted to the door. Neil didn’t see a gun, but he saw the flash of an explosion coming from the man’s right hand. The sound was deafening. He dropped the guitar case and then dove for the floor just as Linus was thrown backwards and on top of him.

“LINUS!” the woman shouted.

“The money!” the man said, his eyes darting from Linus and Neil to the door.

Neil’s throat closed over the coppery taste in his mouth. He saw dollar bills flutter to the floor like leaves, then scooped up by the man with shaking hands. Neil waited for the sound of the gun, but all he heard was heavy footsteps headed out the door.

He wiggled out from underneath Linus’s legs. Blood soaked the left shoulder of Linus’ shirt. Neil looked at the woman, who still stood frozen behind the bar, her hand clapped over her mouth.

“Call 911,” he said. “Now.”

She picked up the phone and he turned back to Linus, who was staring at the ceiling.

“Dude, we’re getting you some help,” Neil said. “You’re going to be all right.”

“Is that Melly?” Linus asked. The woman sobbed street names and numbers into the phone.

“She’s okay,” Neil said. “Just shaken up.”

“I wanted to bring you here for a reason,” Linus said.

“Yeah, my songs,” Neil said.

“More---” Linus said, then a coughing fit pulled his shoulders off of the floor. The bloodstain on his shirt spread to his chest. In the distance, Neil heard the sirens.

“Don’t---“ Linus said in between coughs.

“Lay back,” Neil said. “They’ll be here soon. Try to rest. You’ll be fine.”

“But---“

The sirens grew louder and louder until he heard the crunch of tires on gravel and doors opening and shutting outside. Two of LAPD’s finest came through the door with guns in hand, scanning the room before one kneeled next to Linus.

“Gunshot wound to the shoulder,” he said into his radio microphone. “Everyone else okay?”

Neil nodded, as did Melly.

“You shouldn’t---“

“Are you trying to tell me something about the shooter?” the police officer asked.

Linus shook his head, then slumped back on the floor, his eyes shutting. Neil watched his chest, relieved to see he was still breathing. Whatever he had to say to Neil, he’d have to do it when he was in better shape.

Editor's note: You can read part 3 here.

January 6, 2014No Comments

Things to do in NoHo in 2014

New year, new experiences. And my North Hollywood neighborhood has lots of new and stand-out restaurants, shops, theatres and studios to try out this year. Here are ten I'm going to put on my list for 2014. 

IMG_0925Bob's Espresso Bar, 5251 Lankershim Blvd (at Weddington)

Cute little coffee house with room for just about 20 people. Hosts open mic nights and you've got a fair chance of ordering your Americano from the owner, Robert Romanus aka Damone from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

Antaeus Company Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd (at Otsego)

Critically-acclaimed classical theatre company proves LA art is more than movies. Last year's line up included David Ives' adaptation of "The Liar" and Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." Plus they did a hilarious naked fund-raising video on YouTube.

California Institute of Abnormal Arts, 11334 Burbank Blvd (at Lankershim) IMG_0933

I've simply got to see a show this year at CIA, which calls itself the ultimate FreakShow experience. The venue hosts the best of the underground featuring art, music, magic, puppetry and independent film.

The Road Theatre Company, two locations: 5108 Lankershim Blvd & 10747 Magnolia Blvd

One of the few theatres dedicated to plays you've never heard of by playwrights no one knows.

SC Fitness, 5101 Lankershim at World Fitness Center

I've heard great things about the Zumba and Cardio Body Sculpt classes taught by Sandy Campy at the World Fitness Center. High-energy, fun, good music and reasonably priced.

Yoga Noho, 5257 Vineland (at Weddington)

Yoga studio with the usual vinyasa flow classes plus Tai Chi, belly dancing and something called a sound healing offering cleansing vibrations from planetary gongs and crystal singing bowls.

Movement Lifestyle Studios, 11105 Weddington (at Blakeslee)

Hip hop dance studio offering drop-in classes for intermediate and advanced dancers. Would love to check out one of their exhibitions.

Besame Cosmetics, 3505 W. Magnolia (at Avon)

Technically in Burbank but a stone's throw from NoHo, this store features its modern reproductions of classic luxury makeup from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. It offers hand-crafted lipsticks in vintage packaging to die for.

Pinup Girl, 3606 W. Magnolia (at Cordova)

Not too far from Besame Cosmetics is the California rockabilly headquarters, Pinup Girl, a clothing store devoted to vintage-looking dresses and outfits from the glam days of Hollywood. Pick up wiggle dresses, thigh-high stockings, leopard car coats and more.

Skynny Kitchen, 5166 Lankershim Blvd Unit D (at Magnolia) Skynny Kitchen NoHo

Boasting a menu where every option is under 500 calories, Skynny Kitchen offers bison burgers, protein shakes and tempeh bacon (whatever that is). I hope Skynny Kitchen has better luck than its location's previous tenants, the now-defunct Otis Jackson's Soul Dogs and Cefiore frozen yogurt.

November 7, 2010No Comments

Fall is best time to plant in SoCal

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Department stores are decked out for Christmas, and the turkey cooking hotlines have operators waiting to assist you with Thanksgiving dinner questions, and I'm thinking about spring. No, I'm not a scrooge looking to get the holidays over as quickly as possible. I've learned from experts and seven years experience promoting drought-tolerant gardening that right now is the best time to plant in Southern California. 

Fall is the best time to plant because it allows the plants to take full advantage of our region's rainy season, and grow the long, deep roots needed to survive and thrive. And frost isn't a regular threat to most of us in the valleys and coastal areas.

So to inspire you to include your local nursery or garden center in your shopping rounds this season, here is a list of the plants I'm hoping to plant now, and see in full bloom this spring:

  1. Mimulus 'Pumpkin' -- The California native monkeyflower is a colorful and striking orange perennial, aptly named for November planting, that looks great as a border or in clumps. In some places it will bloom all year, and bring butterflies to your garden.
  2. Rhaphiolepis indica -- The low maintenance Indian Hawthorn shrub is frequently used in home gardens as well as commercial landscapes for its abundant spring flowers that mimic the azalea but can take full sun. They need little water, and come in varieties with pink, white and yellow flowers. 
  3. Heteromeles arbutifolia- The toyon is native to Southern California but because of its strong resemblance to the holly bush used in Christmas decorations, it is popularly known as California holly or Christmas berry. Delicate white flowers in summer followed by bright red berries in winter.
  4. Panicum virgatum 'Prairie Sky' - Prairie Sky Switch Grass brings ethereal blue flower plumes to the garden in spring and summer, atop greenish-blue stems and thin, elegantly bowing leaves. 
  5. Echium fastuosum -- Pride of Madeira is a regal evergreen shrub, sprouting grand cone-shaped spikes of purple flowers in spring. Each spike is hundreds of tiny purple flowers attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. It can get large fast -- reaching a height of six to eight feet and eight to ten feet wide.
  6. Eremophila maculata -- The Spotted Emu Bush is an Australian native with brilliant color and yes, crazy spots on the inner petals of its flowers. Popular with gardeners for its show of color and texture in the spring and a great showpiece for the garden.
  7. Fragaria chiloensis -- You can't eat the ornamental strawberries on this pretty perennial but you will like its dark green, tooth-edged leaves and soft mounding growth. Pinkish red blossoms will thrive for most of the year if you pinch off the fruit. Mow in early spring to encourage new growth.
  8. Aloe nobilis -- The Gold Tooth Aloe proves that succulents can bring color to the garden, with its bright orange-red flower stalks reminiscent of the penstemon. The best part is that this aloe is just as low maintenance as its medicinal cousin, the aloe vera.
  9. Holodiscus discolor -- This pretty shrub known as Cream Bush or Ocean Spray produces clusters of creamy white flowers -- think antique bridal veil -- on the tips of branches covered in dark green leaves. Has a pretty, unusual fragrance. 
  10. Tulbaghia violacea 'variegata' -- The perennial Striped Society Garlic has narrow green leaves outlined in white, and produces lavender flower clusters in the spring and summer. Crush the leaves and flowers and you'll understand how it got its name.